Have you ever read anything in a book, aside from the Bible, that changed your life? Or at least, completely altered your perspective on something in your life?
I have a feeling, if we were all together in a room, this question would generate some amazing discussion. Every person would have a different answer, and every answer would have a story behind it.
While you think about yours, let me share mine.
It has to do with the comparison trap—that all-to-common tendency to focus on other people and what they have that we lack, or the ease with which they seem to get what we want. This peace-robbing, contentment-stealing hazard has popped up here and there throughout my life, but it was especially pervasive when I was struggling with infertility.
It was often difficult to see pregnant women and babies, hear pregnancy announcements, listen to moms discuss all matters relating to childbirth, walk past the baby section at Wal-Mart or sit through child-dedication services at church without getting solidly stuck in the comparison trap.
For awhile, anyway.
Then I stumbled across something in my favorite book series that made me look at pregnant women differently. And, as Robert Frost so famously penned, that has made all the difference—with those comparisons as well as in other situations where this insidious hazard threatens to snag me.
The life-altering passage I’m talking about is from The Horse and His Boy. The third book in the Chronicles of Narnia, it which traces the adventures of a little orphan named Shasta, an aristocratic runaway named Aravis, and two talking horses as they attempt to travel back to Narnia.
I was reading the book with Randy, and we had come to the part where Shasta finally meets Aslan. Shasta encounters Aslan on a foggy mountain path, but because he can’t see the lion, he doesn’t know what he is. But when he feels Aslan’s warm breath on his hand and face, he relaxes a bit and begins to share his litany of sorrows.
He tells how he had been orphaned at a young age and raised by a stern fisherman. How he had then escaped. How he and his companions had been pursued by lions at least twice, and how one lion had actually gotten to Aravis and wounded her. He tells about all the other dangers they have faced on their journey to Narnia. And he also tells about their trek through the desert and how terribly hungry and thirsty and exhausted he is.
“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.
“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.
“There was only one lion,” said the Voice.
“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and—”
“There was only one: but he was swift of foot.”
“How do you know?”
“I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”
“Then it was you who wounded Aravis?”
“It was I.”
“But what for?”
“Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your own story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”
This conversation—especially the part about the lion pushing the boat—has taken on even greater meaning for me and Randy since we adopted Lilly and Molly. I simply cannot get through it without choking up.
But back in our pre-adoption days, it was the last two sentences that grabbed our attention and wouldn’t let go.
“I am telling you your own story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”
That, right there, is the life-changing quote I told you about last week, the one that is displayed center stage above my kitchen sink.
When I read these 18 words to Randy, a huge light bulb went on in our minds. The message was clear: The things that happen in the lives of other people are part of “their story,” and it is neither our responsibility nor our business to know why God allows them to happen.
And yet, what a relief!
The pressure’s gone. I’m off the hook. I really can live my life and trust that God is directing my steps, without continually getting bent out of shape by comparing myself to someone else.
Of course, it takes a lot of discipline to do this. I basically have to mentally separate myself from what’s going on in other people’s lives and recognize that what is happening to them has nothing to do with me.
The fact that my friend, neighbor or the stranger at Target has a new job (or a fancy car, great health, a zillion blog followers, perfectly behaved children, no mortgage or whatever) and I don’t does not mean that she has God’s blessing on her life and I don’t. It simply means that God’s plan for her right now includes that thing, and His plan for me right now does not.
That’s her story, not mine.
It’s a mantra I repeat over and again when the comparison trip threatens, even now, about things that have nothing to do with babies or pregnancy.
I also find it helpful to remember that just because other people sometimes seem to get what I want so easily, it doesn’t necessarily mean that their lives are perfect. The truth is that we simply don’t see other people’s lives through their eyes; we only see them from the outside. There’s always more to any given situation than meets the eye, and when we compare ourselves to someone else without having all the facts, we’re only hurting ourselves.
That’s their story, not mine.
I’ll be honest. Thinking like this is much easier said than done. But I’ve found that when I’m able to do it, it’s a very effective way to stay (or get) out of the comparison trap.
It keeps me from becoming (or remaining) bitter, jealous, resentful or depressed when someone else has what I want. Even better, it enables me to be able to rejoice with those who rejoice—and truly mean it.
A few more things: I can’t end this little Narnia series without telling my favorite anecdote about how this story has impacted my life, so check back next Tuesday for the conclusion.
Also, parts of this post have been adapted from my book, Infertility: Finding God’s Peace in the Journey (Harvest House, 2003), available here. The Narnia passage comes from The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis (HarperCollins Publishers, 1982).